Narrowing the Hispanic Digital Divide
with Claudia Ruiz of UnidosUS
As efforts continue to address the nation’s digital divide, hear from Claudia Ruiz, Policy Analyst with UnidosUS, who joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss the connection between technology and civil rights.
August 31, 2021
Anderson: The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools, offices, and healthcare providers to shift online. And at that time, millions of low-income Americans didn't have the technology or digital skills to make the adjustment, shining a spotlight on our nation's long-standing digital inequities. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. While incremental progress has been made in narrowing the digital divide, there's still a fundamental obstacle to equity and opportunity. And joining me to talk about all of this is Claudia Ruiz. She is a policy analyst at UnidosUS. And Claudia, thanks for being here.
Ruiz: Hey, Tetiana, I'm so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Anderson: So I want to start out by talking about the late congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis, who said that unequal access to the Internet is, "The civil rights issue of the 21st century." And for those who aren't familiar with that line of thinking, what is the connection between tech and civil rights?
Ruiz: Well, I think taking -- centering broadband access as a civil rights issue is one of the easiest things that we can do is center that within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. When we look at the fact that prior to the pandemic, there were about 18 million Latinos without broadband. Fast forward to February, 2021, there are approximately 21 million Latinos now without broadband, you really start to better understand the fact that lacking broadband access really compounds other existing inequities that span healthcare access, educational gaps, economic mobility, homeownership rates, and even accessing government programs and benefits.
Anderson: So when you think about those types of things that people have been living through because of coronavirus, you just mentioned accessing services, doing homework online, accessing recovery funds, how much do you think we're actually living a modern-day example of why these digital inequities are, in fact, an emergency?
Ruiz: Yeah, I think that, again, I think the COVID-19 pandemic really underscored the fact that inequities fall along racial and ethnic lines when it comes to kind of standard aspects of daily life. Now, when we take into context or take into consideration the fact that Latino families have about $36,000 in net worth versus $180,000 for white families, the fact that somewhere around 15 million Latinos lack access to health leave, you really start to better understand the fact that having broadband access can not only close those gaps, but it can also open new on-ramps to opportunity, right, whether it's accessing online learning platforms, being able to access remote working tools and digital tools, or even navigating government portals in order to apply for various benefits like the recent -- like the CTC, the child tax credit that was recently incorporated in this year's American Families Plan. So, again, it's really just highlighting the fact that broadband Internet connection is really the undercurrent that threads through each and every dimension of daily life. And it's for that reason that it's absolutely essential that we provide some sort of support or benefit for low-income households to ensure that they are able to sort of not only recover from the multi-dimensional devastation of the pandemic, but also be able to build back better.
Anderson: So you talked about some of the barriers, you talked about some of the needs. I mean, what have you seen that is actually working to close the gap between these digital inequities? I mean, obviously, giving a benefit is part of that, but I would imagine that Unidos is working on so much more.
Ruiz: Right. So there's sort of a saying within the policy space around broadband advocacy, and that's that there are the three A's to it. So availability, affordability, and adoption. Now, we're pretty focused on the affordability and the adoption aspects, as those have been typically left out. And so you mentioned the affordability aspect, which is being addressed right now by the EBB or emergency benefit program -- Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which provides a monthly benefit to low -income households. However, affordability is really just the start. Getting people online really is only the beginning of a long journey and also having to empower them to be able to access devices. So rather than simply using a smartphone, households need to have better access to laptops, desktops, laptops, tablets, devices that can actually enable people to better navigate all of these different digital tools that we now live with. On top of that is also the fact that you need to also make sure that households are prepared with digital readiness and digital literacy skills so that they are able to better navigate. Again, all of these new digital tools that have transitioned are in real-life time on to online.
Anderson: So much to do. And Claudia, if people want to find out more about what your organization is doing, what's the website?
Ruiz: You can visit us at Unidosus.org. And there you can learn more about the various issue areas that we work on, including broadband access.
Anderson: Claudia Ruiz with UnidosUS, thank you so much for being here.
Ruiz: Thanks so much for having me, Tetiana.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.